Video games are great for passing time or battling monsters with friends online. But the medium is also being used to explore complex stories and themes. It's even being used as form of journalistic storytelling, immersing people in places and events that can be hard to imagine.
In a moment, University of Southern California student Allison Begalman is transported to a sunny street corner in Aleppo, Syria.
Wearing bulky virtual reality goggles and headphones, she can see a cart selling food, cars and trucks passing by, and a group of people circled around a singing little girl.
Nonny de la Peña talks about Project Syria.
But then "all of a sudden there's like a bomb that goes off," Begalman says as she navigates her way around the virtual street. "It's completely full of dust and dirt and ... I'm sort of walking back and forth."
In this virtual world, Begalman has experienced a mortar shelling from Bashar Assad's regime. This is Project Syria, a virtual reality experience built by a team of students at USC. The bomb blast and the destruction are created with the same kind of tools used for video games, except that this is not a regular video game.
"In America, we're deeply involved in Syria, but we're very disconnected about — what is that place?" says Nonny de la Peña, head of Project Syria and a longtime journalist in print and film. "Who are the people? Why do I care? Why are we there?"
Peña says the game helps people feel a little closer to Syrians in the middle of the civil war.
"I sometimes call virtual reality an empathy generator," she says. "It's astonishing to me. People all of a sudden connect to the characters in a way that they don't when they've read about it in the newspaper or watched it on TV."
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